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Saturday 8th August 2020

Read the latest Notes from Cabinet - Thursday, 6 August 2020. The Cabinet met both face-to-face and virtually, all members present.

Notes from Cabinet: (Pt1)

The Ministry of Education, led by the Director of Education and five other officials—including the Deputy Director, the Assistant Director, the Chairman and the Executive Secretary and the Deputy Executive Secretary of the Board of Education—addressed the Cabinet on their plans to open schools across the country one month from today, or on September 7, 2020.

While teachers will be called on to commence the term one week earlier, on August 31, 2020, the classroom lectures will be both face-to-face and by virtual means, at several densely populated schools. The opening of the economy is also a signal for the opening of the schools, the Director explained. Many parents are workers whose children need school for learning as well as a lifeline. Children need supervision if they are to learn, and the classroom exposure is the very best which a student can have.

The burden of Covid-19 is that it will cause classes of 30 (or more) students to be divided into two classes of 15 students each, in order to achieve social distancing; teachers cannot be compelled to teach for twice as many hours daily. Hence, one half of the class will experience the lesson face-to-face while the other half will rely upon the virtual experience. Several schools will also have tents erected on their green space, under which classes can be held when the classrooms are all full and occupied. There are 2,000 teachers and more than 21,000 students in the school system.

In order to achieve the virtual experience, new laptops will be purchased for the Secondary School students, and their tablets will be passed on to the primary school students; the laptops will be specially programmed to foreclose cheating during CXC exams. It is estimated that the cost of the laptops for all teachers, secondary school students, and extras (in the event of breakage or loss), will hover around $2 million dollars. The Board of Education, whose collections have fallen off significantly since so many workers and employers are not contributing to the Education Levy, will also depend upon the Government to subsidize the cost.

Notes from Cabinet ( Pt2)

Three doctors, including the Chief Medical Officer, the Medical Director of the Mount St. John Medical Center (MSJMC), and the Chairperson of the Medical Council of Antigua and Barbuda, were invited to Cabinet to address three separate issues.

a. The Head of the Medical Council addressed the issue of the accreditation of certain students who graduated from the Metropolitan University, now located in Antigua, but who are suffering a deficit which can only be cured by the University. The evidence provided was conclusive as to the need for the University to take the very next step which would lead to full accreditation. The Chair of the Medical Council expressed a willingness to assist, as far as is possible, to enable the University to achieve full accreditation.

b. The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) was asked about the smoothness of the systems now in place at V. C. Bird International Airport to move all arriving passengers through the various check-points, since detractors were claiming on social media and in text messages that the system was “facing meltdown”, and that returning nationals were being “treated differently” to tourists arriving on the same flight. The CMO pointed out that the steps which lead to all arriving passengers being cleared to leave the airport are identical. The temperature checks, the nine kiosks manned by medical personnel, the appearance before the Immigration and Customs officers do not change for any of the arriving passengers.

- The CMO noted that returning nationals are likely to be sent to self-quarantine, though several are sent to the Hawksbill for quarantine when home is deemed inadequate; the returning nationals are likely to mix with family and friends and could unwittingly pass the coronavirus on to their loved-ones. The tourists are dispatched to hotels where there are systems in place to ensure that the visitors do not spread the virus, should they be infected, the CMO explained. All arriving passengers would have presented a Covid-free certificate to the medical authorities at the airport. Yet, that certificate is not deemed sufficient for entry into Antigua. It is the best which can be done to ensure that a passenger can board a flight heading to Antigua. The claim of unequal treatment is untrue.

c. The Medical Director was told that one young man made the claim that a majority of young doctors who are allowed to join the internship program at the MSJMC are from countries other than Antigua and Barbuda. The Medical Director provided the facts showing that to be a false claim. The annual number allowed is 12 and there can be as many as 26 applicants. Every applicant cannot be accepted, or must wait for a succeeding year to gain acceptance to the internship program, he informed.

The Medical Director was also questioned about the shortage of nurses and the exam to be taken in order to become a qualified Antigua and Barbuda nurse. In 2015, there were 250 nurses; today, in 2020, there are 179 nurses attached to the MSJMC. Nurses are also required at the Infectious Disease Control Center at the old Holberton Hospital, and additional nurses at the mini-hospital on Nugent Avenue. However, nurses trained in Antigua and Barbuda are drawn to the USA, the UK and Canada—jurisdictions that pay far more than Antigua and Barbuda can afford. The Cabinet is giving some consideration to amending any laws that may inhibit the use of nurses from other jurisdictions to join the MSJMC.

- The Medical Director also addressed the issue of the two Covid-19 infected patients who spent 78 and 92 days respectively in hospital, attached to respirators. These two patients recovered after many complications, attesting to the challenge which these patients faced and overcame.

- The Medical Director reminded the Cabinet that safeguarding oneself from infection is still the responsibility of each person. Nevertheless, it was agreed that the level of treatment and the management of the Covid-19 disease in Antigua has been among the best in the world. The early opening of the Antigua and Barbuda borders on June 1, 2020, has been expertly handled by all those who have given of their talent, employing many of the lessons learned by the training which has been made available. There was a comparison of all the dashboards from the CARICOM countries, and the expert display of the data in Antigua’s case was deemed the best.

- The Cabinet also agreed that children below the age of 12 years, entering Antigua, are not given PCR Covid tests; the policy is no swabbing of young children.

Notes from Cabinet ( Pt3)

The Cabinet invited the General Manager of the APUA to join the meeting by telephone, in order to address the issue of piped water and fixing broken pipes throughout the distribution system. The APUA General Manager confirmed that a machine has been purchased by APUA which will allow a far cleaner cut of the road above the broken pipes, allowing easier repair. That machine will begin doing work shortly. In order to limit the inconvenience to households during the replacement exercise, temporary PVC connections will continue to take water around the replacement pipes that are being excavated. The APUA has borrowed more than $150 million dollars to make several improvements to its array of services, including increasing water supply and delivery.

-The Cabinet has agreed to re-start the Government’s feeding program which saw the state providing food packages to needy family each week. This program was initiated in order to ensure that no-one goes hungry and no child is malnourished, during this Covid-19 pandemic. Each week, $300,000 will be set aside to purchase food and to deliver hampers to families within communities that are most in need. The families are to be identified by the elected representatives and by the technicians within the Ministry of Social Transformation.

Notes from Cabinet: (Pt 4)

The Cabinet congratulated Minister Daryll S Matthew, the Minister responsible for Festivals, for the magnificent virtual concert of last Saturday night, August 1, 2020, which drew thousands of viewers on television and to social media. The Soca Monarch competition received rave reviews from many in the diaspora as well as those at home. The Minister has asked that support be given for a virtual Calypso Competition around Independence 2020, if the crisis still persists. Consideration will be given by the Cabinet, he was assured.

The Cabinet held a discussion surrounding Emerald Cove—a development in the eastern part of Antigua, just past the village of Wilikies. The property has fallen into disrepair. Consideration has been given to move under the amended Companies Act to have two creditors move to appoint an administrator, in order to either resuscitate the development or liquidate the same so that its debts can be paid. The Attorney General was advised by Cabinet to report next Wednesday, August 12, 2020, on the steps taken to realize this objective.

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